Summary and Analysis
Part 2: Chapter 17
Laila turns to face the water gun and finds Khadim, an 11-year-old neighborhood bully, holding it. Khadim taunts Laila, asking the whereabouts of her protector, Tariq, before squirting her head with the gun. Slowly, it dawns on Laila that she's being squirted with urine. Furious and humiliated, she flees to her house.
At home, Laila cleans herself up and decides to enter her mother's closed bedroom. She finds Fariba asleep under a heap of blankets in the cluttered room, its walls filled with pictures of Ahmed and Noor. Laila resents her mother's endless indisposition and recalls fondly her mother's good days when Fariba would take her on errands, play games, or have neighborhood women over for tea. Laila fondly recalls listening to the women gossip; their hopeful talk of the boys' return from war, and the matchmaking they'd do at that time. Days like this have grown more and more infrequent: Now Fariba spends most of her days in bed; she and Hakim now have separate bedrooms.
After waking Fariba, Laila proceeds to tell her about being splattered with urine. Fariba groggily says she'll talk to the boy's mother, but Laila can tell that her mother will not do anything. Fed up, Laila leaves the room to do her homework and her mother drifts back to sleep.
Hosseini strengthens the parallels between Laila and Mariam and also compares and contrasts the dominant parent-child relationships presented in the novel thus far. Laila, like Mariam, is definitely influenced by her mother's behavior. For instance, at times both girls resent their mothers, but at other times they are empathetic, even loving, toward their mothers. Mariam resented her mother's decision to prevent her from getting an education, and her mother's distaste for Jalil; Laila resents her mother's decision to isolate herself from she and her father. Both girls are unable to completely give up on their mothers: Mariam has many fond memories of her mother and sees that underneath her anger, her mother truly did care for her. Laila rejoices in the days when her mother acts like her old self and embraces life by cooking and playing with Laila.
Through Mariam and Laila's experiences, it's clear that the personal suffering of both Nana and Fariba affects their ability to be good mothers. Both mothers care for their daughters, but are unable to put aside their own misery to focus on the needs of their daughters. Nana is unable to accept Mariam's growing independence and thus commits suicide. Fariba cannot look past her grief over her missing sons in order to care for her young daughter. While Nana and Fariba experienced different losses in their lives, their inability to overcome them has a strong affect on their daughters' self-worth.
Fortunately for Laila, her relationship with her father is more fully realized than the one between Mariam and Jalil. Unlike Jalil, Hakim is entirely devoted to his precocious daughter and defends her right to make educated choices in her life. Mariam, however, only received Jalil's support and affection when it was convenient for Jalil, culminating in his decision to force her into a loveless marriage. However, Hosseini shows how socioeconomic forces influence both men's choices. Hakim, as a former teacher and university-educated man from the middle classes, is more able to embrace notions of equal opportunity for the genders; Jalil, as a public figure, felt pressure from his wives and his position in society to disown Mariam and limit her choices to protect his own reputation. However, Hosseini foreshadows that Jalil and Mariam's relationship is still evolving with the presence of an old man with Herat license plates sitting outside her door.